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Showing posts from November, 2020

Star Light, Star Bright: Measuring All the Starlight (Ever!)

If you made a wish on every star in the universe, you’d need to make about a trillion trillion wishes—that’s a 1 followed by 24 zeros. Of course, you can’t see all of those stars from your bedroom window. You can’t even see them all from the Hubble Space Telescope , and you won’t be able to with the James Webb Space Telescope either.

A Sweet Thanksgiving for Our Galaxy

Sugar. A variant on the sweetest ingredient in many a sumptuous holiday feast, glycolaldehyde has now been found in a star-forming region of space far from the galactic center called G31.41+0.31, about 26,00 light years away from Earth . Directly linked to the origin of life, glycolaldehyde is an advantageous find for researchers seeking out habitable planets.   A team of international researchers used the powerful IRAM radio telescope in France to observe G31.41+0.31 with high angular resolution and at different wavelengths. This allowed the researchers to view astronomical objects with extreme sharpness and fine detail. Several observations confirmed the presence of glycolaldehyde at the core of the region. The simplest of monosaccharide sugars, glycolaldehyde (the prefix "glyco" indicates the presence of a sugar on a non-carbohydrate substance) can react with the substance propenal to form ribose, the backbone of ribonucleic acid ( RNA ). Although deoxyribonucleic

The Science Behind Turkey Time

Wild Turkey / Image Credit: Andrea Westmoreland via Flickr There are 60-foot high balloons floating above packed city blocks , cranberries on the stove, inside-the-turkey stuffing, mashed potatoes, outside-the-turkey stuffing, football, abominably huge turkeys, and one lucky bird . The best part of Thanksgiving dinner? Leftover Thanksgiving dinner. But those leftovers take hard work-- that hot, perfect, leftover Thanksgiving dinner Friday lunch sandwich -- that takes precision, dedication, and extra cranberries. In this Thanksgiving-special post, we present this great video from the American Chemical Society that sheds light on the science behind pop-up turkey timers, mashed potatoes, and those great thanksgiving naps. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

A More Fun Way to Pass Kidney Stones?

Who hasn’t wished the doctor would prescribe a week of vacation or a trip to Walt Disney World to cure an ailment? For patients with kidney stones, that might be just around the corner.

The Lengthy History of the Meter

By: Hannah Pell Two years ago on November 16th, 2018, representatives from more than 60 member nations of the Bureau International des Poids et Mesures (International Bureau of Weights and Measures) convened in Versailles, France to make a very important decision. Representatives in attendance to the 26th General Conference on Weights and Measures (CGPM) unanimously voted to redefine the International System of Units (SI) according to fundamental constants in nature, including the speed of light in a vacuum, elementary charge value of the electron, and the Planck, Avogadro, and Boltzmann constants. Such a change — appropriately made on World Metrology Day — would have ripple effects around the world with regard to how scientific measurements are determined. The proposition noted that an “essential requirement” for the SI system is that it is “uniform and accessible world-wide,” and that the units themselves “must be stable in the long term, internally self-consistent, and practically

Biosphere 2

Just outside the town of Oracle, Arizona, nestled between the seemingly endless plains of the Sonaran desert and the cactus-pocked foothills of Mount Lemmon, stands an enormous glass ziggurat: Biosphere 2.

The Phosphine Debate: The Case for Incessant Study

By Allison Kubo Hutchison    The scene is Venus, the second planet from the sun similar in mass and size to the Earth but with a dense, cloying atmosphere of 96% carbon dioxide. This thick atmosphere, like a thick wool blanket, leads to extremely high temperatures and pressures on Venus’ surface with a mean temperature of 867 F (464 C) and a pressure 92 times that of sea level. From our understanding of life, it doesn’t seem at first that Venus could ever be hospitable. But scientists have speculated that life could exist floating in Venus’ atmosphere. Although the surface of Venus is extreme, there are layers in the cloud cover that actually host conditions similar to Earth. Approximately 51 km (31 mi) above the surface, temperatures are actually quite mild at 146 F (65C) or as low as 86 F (30C) and at approximately Earth surface pressures. On Earth, there is an extremely rich biosphere suspended in the air with thousands of different types of bacteria in each breath . In Septem

The Space Heist of Bennu

By Allison Kubo Artistic representation of OSIRIS-REx over the asteroid Bennu. NASA/GODDARD/University of Arizona. In 2016, the OSIRIS-REx probe left Earth but unlike most other probes on their journey out to space, OSIRIS-REx does intend to return home. If all goes well, OSIRIS-REx will return to its home in 2023 carrying a precious sample. As of 2018, OSIRIS-REx has been orbiting the asteroid Bennu. Bennu is about the size of the Empire Statebuilding but it is older than the Earth itself. Bennu is a relic from the solar system’s formation. On October 20, 2020 after two years of careful observation, OSIRIS-REx reached out it’s arm and touched the asteroid at Nightingale Crater with the goal of getting at least 60 g of sample from the surface and then returning it to Earth. To understand the importance of Bennu and why we would go all the way there for approximately one chocolate bar’s worth of icy dirt, we have to go back to the beginning. Before our sun, there were likely mul

The Bayes-ics of Election Forecasting

By: Hannah Pell It’s nationwide election time yet again. As of October 30th, more than 85 million Americans have already cast their ballot , a remarkable number considering total voter turnout for the 2016 election was 138 million. By the time you’re reading this, we may or may not yet know the winners, especially given the massive increase in mail-in voting this year. But that hasn’t stopped pollsters and psephologists — political scientists who study the quantitative analysis of elections and balloting — from trying to predict who they will be by using various election forecast models as a tool to do so. Image Credit: iStockphoto.com How do these election forecast models work? A peek under the hood reveals a complex mess of sophisticated mathematics. However, at the core of it is a statistical framework that’s older than our government itself: Bayes’s theorem. As we will see, Bayes' theorem is especially suited for political analysis because it allows us to quantify how o